If you’ve done your research, bought your gun, acquired ammunition, and closely studied the rules of gun safety, you might think you’re ready for your first trip to the shooting range. However, you need a few more items before squeezing off that first shot. Eye and ear protection are vitally important every time you shoot a firearm or are around anyone else who is shooting. After all, God only gave you one pair of each, and they need to last you the rest of your life!

Selecting the Right Eye and Ear Protection

Let’s take a look at eye and ear protection for shooters.

Hearing Protection

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), exposure to noise greater than 140 dB can permanently damage hearing. Almost all firearms create noise that is over the 140-dB level. In fact, a small .22-caliber rifle can produce noise around 140 dB. Likewise, centerfire rifles and pistols can produce sound over 175 dB.

Additionally, firing guns in a place (like indoor ranges) where sounds can reverberate or bounce off walls and other structures can make noises louder and increase the risk of hearing loss. Adding muzzle brakes or other modifications can make firearms even louder.

Most shooters from my generation—before hearing protection was a thing—have some hearing damage from decades of shooting. If you shoot without hearing protection and hear a ringing in your ears, that means you’ve caused permanent damage to your hearing. That’s not a good thing.

Fortunately, many equipment manufacturers make just what you need to protect your hearing at the range. These devices range from simple to very complex and from dirt cheap to very expensive. Do your research, though. You want to ensure that whatever hearing protection you choose knocks the noise level below 140 dB.

Note that hearing protection is measured by using the Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR. Any hearing protection device with an NRR below 20 will, in general, protect less than a device with an NRR in the 20s. Devices with an NRR in the high 20s or low 30s will generally offer the most protection you can buy.

In-Ear Ear Protection

In-ear models do the job well, and many are quite inexpensive. Simple foam plugs that you squeeze or roll between your fingers and then expand to block the ear canal are very popular. Many have an NRR over 30 when used properly. Howard Leight’s High-Visibility Disposable Foam Earplugs cost about $11 for a bag of 50 and have an NRR of 32.

More complex models are also available, and while pricier, they offer other good features. In fact, many models magnify sounds like range commands and conversations and then block noise when a gun is fired. Some can even be molded to your ear for an exact fit.

While more expensive, I have found them to be well worth the cost. Custom plugs from Pro Ears cost north of $1,000 but are super handy and will last for years.

Over-the-Ear Muffs

Over-the-ear—or muffs—are the other type of hearing protection available. These also come in a wide range of protection levels and sophistication. Some, like Pro Ears’ Ultra Pro Passive, simply cover the ears and block out loud noises. Others, like Warbird Entrepid BT muffs, enhance low sounds and block out a shot’s damaging sound when a gun is fired.

Eye Protection

Eye protection is equally as important as ear protection. A typical pair of sunglasses can be worn at the range. However, purpose-made shooting glasses with stronger lenses and various colors of lenses to aid vision are always safer and better.

Spall flies off steel targets, ejected cartridge casings fly, gas blows back, and dirt and oil splatter. So, having a ballistically rated lens between your eyes and whatever is coming at them can be the difference between a good day at the range and a bad one.

In a nutshell, shooting glasses should be ANSI Z87+ high impact approved in order to provide peace of mind. The ANSI rating relates to the lenses’ ability to defend the eye against hazards.

As with hearing protection, you can spend a little or a lot for shooting glasses. Simple ballistic-rated glasses like the Walker Ikon line retail for about $25, come in a variety of lens colors and do the job just fine. At the other end of the spectrum, Beretta’s Puul Shooting Glasses offer three interchangeable lenses of different colors and will set you back about $230.

While lens color has little to do with protection, choosing the right color for your shooting location most often is an important factor when shopping for eye protection. Clear or yellow lenses are ideal for low-light conditions and indoor shooting ranges. Similarly, amber or brown lenses excel in overcast days and low-light conditions. Finally, gray lenses are perfect for bright, sunny days on the outdoor range.

Get your eye and ear protection taken care of soon. In the next installment of Shooting 101, we’ll discuss your first trip to the range!

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